Sophomore English classes venture to Bridgeport for book talk

Westport students often hear that we are living in a “bubble.” Many kids go through Staples without ever being exposed to the less privileged towns surrounding us. We graduate high school having never bonded with kids who don’t live in Westport.

However, English teachers Danielle Spies and Barbara Robbins aimed to change this when their sophomore English classes went to Harding High School in Bridgeport on Dec. 17. This was a part of an ongoing collaboration that started last year in which Staples students and Harding students do a book club with one another.

“We always start off with meeting at one of the schools,” Spies said. “So last year we went to Bridgeport first and this year they came to Staples first. Then the second time we go to the other school. Throughout that process we do flip grid videos back and forth.”

Last year students from both schools were reading “The Hate U Give,” and this year they are reading the book “Dear Martin.” The students are expected to read the novel and then discuss with their groups consisting of students from both schools.

“We were looking for themes about how different groups in our society are treated and why this matters,” Eli Kogan ’21 said. “Then, when they [Harding students] traveled to Staples when we first started the book, we drew identity maps to further understand the main character Justyce.”

While at Harding, the students also got the chance to speak with the author of “Dear Martin,” Nic Stone.

“When we were at Harding, as a treat to the students, we had the chance to face time the author of “Dear Martin” and ask her questions,” Nicole Jamieson ’21 said. “I really enjoyed doing this and my group told [Stone] our reactions about the ending of the book.”

In addition to the educational aspect, many students also enjoyed the connections made on a personal level and liked having the opportunity to meet kids from Bridgeport.

“It was really cool to get to know some of the kids there and hear about their lives,” Emma Ashe ’21 said.

Gerard Allen ’21 also enjoyed his experience at Harding and noted the differences between the two schools. “It was interesting to see what kids from other high schools are doing. Going to Staples everyday, you kind of forget how nice we have it,” he said.

Exposing Staples students to the differences among them and kids from right next door is one of the reasons Robbins and Spies started the program.

“I was especially interested because I grew up in Bridgeport and knew this experience could help build a bridge to connect our two communities,” Robbins said.

Robbins and Spies are already planning another Harding meet up in the spring to connect about a different novel.

“I love collaborating,” Spies said. “It’s really nice for students to interact with other students in different communities. Students from last year have even come back to share that they wish they could do it again.”